Varsity Billionaires: These Forbes 400 Members Played Sports In College – Forbes
The old trope that success on the playing field leads to success in life certainly holds true for The Forbes 400.
Among the 400 richest Americans, we found plenty who played sports in high school, but only 26 who played varsity sports in college. The most popular sport was football, followed by basketball, but altogether these Forbes 400 members played 14 different sports, including boxing, gymnastics, hockey, tennis and wrestling. Quite a few of these college athletes say it shaped who they are as businesspeople. Here, some insight into 10 of these varsity billionaires, followed by the full list of The Forbes 400’s varsity athletes:
America’s 6th richest man, David Koch graduated as MIT’s all-time scoring leader in basketball, scoring 946 points throughout his career with the Engineers. His 1962 record of 41 points in a game against Middlebury stood until 2008 and he still ranks second in career scoring average for MIT with 21 points per game. In his senior year Koch captained the team. His fraternal twin Bill Koch also played on the MIT team for two years. “I had some pretty good moves” the 6 feet, 5 inches tall David Koch told FORBES.
The inventor of the modern running shoe Phil Knight competed mostly in 1- and 2-mile races as an undergraduate, almost entirely in the shadow of teammate Jim Grelle. Knight would beat the future Olympian just once—by two tenths of a second in a race during his junior year— but his time on the track team resulted in a tight relationship with his coach, Bill Bowerman; the two would go on to found Nike together in 1964.
Jerry Jones went from playing college football to owning the most valuable American football team, the Dallas Cowboys. Jones was the co-captain of the football team at the University of Arkansas; in 1964 the team won the NCAA national championship. Jones told FORBES that his college football coach Frank Broyles taught him “extremely important and valuable lessons in the art of communication, management, business strategy and being a father.” Jones, worth an estimated $5.6 billion, bought the Cowboys in 1989 for $150 million. FORBES now values the team at $4.2 billion.
At Williams College, Robert Rich Jr. played goalie for the school’s varsity ice hockey team, serving as co-captain his senior year. After college, he signed a minor league contract to play with the Chicago Blackhawks but was drafted by the military and wasn’t able to play. Rich Jr., worth an estimated $5.5 billion, runs Rich Foods, a global frozen foods company started by his father.
The only woman on The Forbes 400 to play a varsity sport (at least, that FORBES could confirm) is SC Johnson heir Helen Johnson-Leipold. A tennis super star at Cornell, she was New York state singles champion in 1975, on top of being her school’s No.1 singles player as a junior and senior. In her senior year she captained the team and has recorded an impressive 35-3 career record in singles play.
From wrestling to private equity: Josh Harris, cofounder of private equity firm Apollo Global Management, credits wrestling for his success in finance. After first getting Bs and Cs as a high school freshman in Washington D.C., he joined the high school wrestling team, improved his grades and gained admission to the University of Pennsylvania. At Penn,Harris wrestled on the 1982-83 team and was a starter at 118 pounds. Harris is now worth $3.3 billion.
Daniel D’Aniello is likely one of few varsity gymnasts to make a fortune in private equity. D’Aniello cofounded and chairs private equity firm Carlyle Group. He compares his experience as a varsity gymnast at Syracuse University to his experience in business. “As in business, gymnastics demands personal performance for the team to succeed. The guiding principles are identical: strength, agility, flexibility and endurance,” D’Aniello told FORBES.
Prior to building a fortune in Silicon Valley real estate, John Arrillaga attended Stanford University on a basketball scholarship. During his senior year (1959-60) when he served as captain, he was a third-team All-American and a first-team All-Pac-8 honoree. The Arrillaga Family Sports Center, which opened in 1994, is home to Stanford’s Department of Athletics.
Los Angeles Chargers owner Alexander Spanos lettered in swimming and diving during his time at the University of the Pacific. In his autobiography, “Sharing the Wealth,” Spanos writes: “I enjoyed life, lettered in swimming and diving, worked as a baker in the student cafeteria, and was on my way to earning that lofty engineering degree that my dad had preordained for me.” Spanos dropped out of UOP in 1948, but as a result of his donations to the school, his name is on the 6,150-seat stadium at the university.
One reason CNN founder Ted Turner chose to attend Brown University was that it had a good sailing team. After years of sailing as a kid in Savannah, Georgia, he tried out for Brown’s sailing team as a freshman. He made the varsity team his sophomore year and went on to become team captain the next year. The training certainly paid off: in 1977 Turner‘s team won the America’s Cup in his “home waters” in Newport, Rhode Island.
Additional reporting by: Deniz Cam, Noah Kirsch, Hunter Sharf, Michela Tindera and Jennifer Wang